To watch the video of this project click below.

STEP 1: Create your 3D scene
Build your scene in Cinema 4D, animating your objects and your camera. Having a few objects spread out over space with a more dramatic camera move will make your 2D comp more noticeable for your first attempt.
STEP 2: Set up lights as position markers
Position lights in your cinema comp at key places that you’d like to place your 2D objects later. These will act as 3D position markers in your After Effects comp.
STEP 3: Use Object buffers to create luma mattes
This is one of the most important and timesaving parts of the process. Because your rendered movie will be flat – and you don’t want to spend the time rendering every object in the scene separately – you’ll use Object Buffers to create a Luma Matte for each object in the scene. For each object that needs a buffer (or group of objects on a null) create a render tag. Choose your object in the object window and go to File > Cinema 4D tags > Compositing. There will now be a little blue tag next to your object. Select the tag and a new render tag window will appear below. In this window, select Object Buffer from the menu. Click the box that says enable, and the number 1 will appear. You can create up to 12 separate Object Buffers in one comp, but you can separate limitless objects by putting multiple objects on a null and selecting a buffer for each null.
STEP 4: Time for multi-pass rendering
This continues what you started in STEP 3. If you don’t enable your Object Buffers in your Render Settings, you won’t get any results. In your Render Settings, go to Multi-Pass. In the upper right corner there’s a small button called channels; click channels and select Object Buffer. This will prompt you with the number 1; click OK. Once selected, this will render out a separate movie or image sequence for the object with the Object Buffer tag. You want to add Object Buffers in the Render Settings for each Object Buffer you created in your object window, in this case, 1 through 12. There are many other useful multi-pass render options in this window. You’ll have separate renders for your RGBA image and shadow pass, which you’ll composite in AE to give you more control over the look of our scene. Make sure you’ve set the path and the render format for your buffers at the bottom of the window.
STEP 5: Save your comp in After Effects
In Render Settings > Save menu, go down and click the box that says Compositing Project File, and make sure AE is selected from the pull-down menu. You’ll also need to install the Cinema 4D AE plug-in that comes with your copy of Cinema 4D. The Cinema 4D AE plug-in gets dropped in your AE plug-ins folder.
STEP 6: Render
Double-check all your other render settings and paths, hit render and go watch a David Hasselhoff video. When your render is finished, you’ll notice that along with your render of the scene, you now have separate movies rendered for each object that you enabled with a buffer, as well as an AE file called an AEC (After Effects Composition). AE will not understand this file until you have installed the plug-in from STEP 5.
STEP 7: Work with your renders in After Effects
Open your new AE file and you’ll see your main movie render, along with a composition. Open the composition and you’ll see your movie, an AE camera and however many lights you created in your scene. You’ll see another folder in your project window called Special Passes; this contains all your Object Buffer renders, as well as any other renders you chose to create back in your Multi-Pass settings in Cinema 4D. You’ll also see RGBA and shadow pass movies. If you drop any of your buffers onto your comp, they should match up perfectly over the objects in your scene. These can easily be used to mask off your objects by putting one above your comp and choosing Track Matte > Luma Matte. This method can also be used to give 3D objects in AE the appearance that they are traveling behind objects in your flat scene render. You can import all your normal image files into your AE comp, make them 3D layers and they will be seen by the camera, appearing to be in the same 3D space as the rest of your elements in the movie.
STEP 8: Use lights as 3D position markers only
As you add movies or Photoshop elements into your scene as 3D layers, you’ll notice they may be very dark, or even black. This is because the lights that were imported from your Cinema 4D comp are trying to light your 2D objects as well. First, turn off the visibility of all those lights; you’ll use them as 3D position markers. When all the lights are turned off, your imported elements will come back to life and appear normal again. Now, take one of your imported elements, in this case a picture of a watch, and replace one of your lights with that image so it will be in the EXACT same position in 3D space as the light we created specifically for this purpose. This takes ALL the guesswork out of trying to line up your objects in X, Y and Z space, which can prove to be very difficult when working in a comp like this. Scroll through your lights until you find the one that’s in the position where you want your object. Select that light, hold Option and drag your image onto the light, replacing it with your image. Make sure you click the image as a 3D layer. The new object will appear to be in the exact same X, Y, and Z depth as the light was and will match perfectly with the rest of your objects.
STEP 9: Composite your projects
You can put pixel files, movies, vectors or pre-comps into your composition this way. Once everything appears to be in place, use your Object Buffers as Luma Mattes to give them the appearance that they’re going behind various objects in the foreground of your scene. MAGIC!
STEP 10: Relax
Finish the Hasselhoff flick with all of your newfound time.
Brad Tucker
Design Director
Stardust Studios
Award-winning Stardust Studios’ Design Director Brad Tucker is a 2002 graduate of the California Institute of the Arts. Brad has earned credits on work for some of the most renowned firms in the market space, including Buck, Brand New School and Logan. As design director at Stardust, his contributions have helped land and develop countless projects, score numerous awards and generate editorial exposure.
Brad Says Keep in Mind…
By rendering out 3D elements in Cinema 4D with multi-pass renders and object buffers you can bring them into your Adobe After Effects comps and blend them with your flat images to create the illusion of 3D, or as I like to call it, "2.5D."
Prior to Cinema 4D’s AE plug-in, achieving this same look took a lot more time- you had to track your shots by eye and guess where the camera was going within your comp. This new technique means you won’t have to mess with all that guesswork, which often is anything but exact. Use this trick to pull multiple images into AE and fill your scenes more quickly.
Stardust Studios
1920 Main St., Suite A
Santa Monica, CA 90405
ph. 310.399.6047
180 Lafayette St., 7th Fl.
New York, NY 10013
ph. 212.334.7300
Support Gear
Cinema 4D, Cinema 4D AE plug-in and Adobe After Effects